LINGUIST List 12.468

Wed Feb 21 2001

Review: James Crawford, At War with Diversity

Editor for this issue: Terence Langendoen <terrylinguistlist.org>


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  • Cindy Schneider, Review of Crawford, At War with Diversity

    Message 1: Review of Crawford, At War with Diversity

    Date: Tue, 13 Feb 2001 17:54:05 +1000
    From: Cindy Schneider <cschnei3metz.une.edu.au>
    Subject: Review of Crawford, At War with Diversity


    Crawford, James. 2000. At War with Diversity: US Language Policy in an Age of Anxiety. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters. 143 pages.

    Reviewed by Cindy Schneider, University of New England, Armidale, Australia.

    Synopsis Until recently, language policy has seldom figured prominently in American political debate. Nevertheless, the seemingly innocuous language choices taken by individuals and communities have sometimes resulted in explosive, emotional controversy. This book looks at language legislation and bilingual education in the United States since the colonial era. It focuses particularly on the 1990s, a decade which witnessed a significant amount of political turmoil surrounding people of a Non-English Speaking Background (NESB). By framing NESB legislation within a historical and political context, the book provides useful insight into this complex issue. The author has strong credentials in this area, not only as a writer and lecturer but also as former editor of Education Week. He is well-versed in a range of issues, which he presents to the reader as a collection of loosely interrelated essays.

    Chapter 1 - Anatomy of the English-Only Movement This chapter provides a historical overview of the English-Only movement. Short case studies are used to illustrate the experiences of NESB minorities in the United States. Specifically, the experiences of Pennsylvania Germans, Louisianans, Californios, American Indians, Puerto Ricans, Native Hawaiians, and European Immigrants are examined. Crawford suggests that linguistic intolerance is rooted in a fear of change in the economic and political status quo, rather than in anything inherently linguistic. Thus, an attack against language serves as a smokescreen for deeper fears and hostilities.

    Chapter 2 - Boom to Bust: Official English in the 1990s Chapter Two looks at the political debate surrounding English-only legislation in the 1990s. Crawford examines the thinly-veiled racist agenda of US English, an organisation whose aim is to marginalise linguistic minorities under the guise of promoting ethnic harmony. He also discusses the English Language Empowerment Act, which was so obsessed with promoting English at the expense of other languages that little thought was given to the benefits of linguistic plurality or cultural tolerance. It becomes clear to the reader that, rather than uniting diverse communities into 'one big family', such restrictive legislation actually serves to further polarise NESB and mainstream communities.

    Chapter 3 - Endangered Native American Languages >From here, the book shifts to examine the alarming decline of Native American languages and the nature of language loss, generally. Crawford wonders if it is possible to 'cure' the situation, but feels that this is unlikely without increased resources and support. This then leads him to ask: Why should we even care if languages die? He does well in addressing this question, which is often, surprisingly, unasked, unanswered, and therefore inadequately dealt with in linguistics. While specialists may take the importance of language diversity for granted, the general public needs to also understand this if their support for linguistic plurality is to be rallied.

    Chapter 4 - Seven Hypotheses on Language Loss The author offers his understanding of the social and cultural forces that instigate language shift and loss, and provides some suggestions about the best ways to counter this trend. The discussion is organised in the format of seven separately formulated hypotheses, in an attempt to contribute towards a theory of language shift. Four Native American communities (Navajo, Hualapai, Pasqua Yaqui, and Mississippi Band of Choctaw) are provided as case study examples. In this way, Crawford is able to highlight the fact that Native American linguistic communities are not identical; rather, they are in quite diverse stages of language maintenance or loss.

    Chapter 5 - The Political Paradox of Bilingual Education Perceptive and thought-provoking, this chapter outlines the decline in support for bilingual education, particularly with regard to Title VII, the Bilingual Education Act. Initially a concern of social reformers, Title VII was regarded as an innovative solution to community problems of the late 1960s. Its rapid enactment into law meant that there has since been confusion about its goals. Should its purpose be to assimilate learners into an English-only world, and end at that? Or should its aim be more culturally pluralistic, where NESB people learn English while also maintaining their home language? While this continues to be a matter for debate, the US government began to impose new regulations in bilingual school systems, provoking a community backlash. Thus, in effect, the institutionalisation of bilingual education has also precipitated its decline in political popularity.

    Chapter 6 - The Proposition 227 Campaign: A Post Mortem Proposition 227, the drastic Californian measure to eliminate bilingual education in that state, is examined here. No empirical evidence exists to demonstrate the superiority of 'sink or swim' English immersion over bilingual education; yet, Proposition 227 passed by a 61 to 39 percent margin in June 1998. Why couldn't defendants make an effective case against 227? Crawford expresses frustration with researchers and educators who were reluctant to participate in political controversy, ineffective campaign consultants, over-simplified media coverage, and the clever marketing strategies of Ron Unz, the brainchild behind 227. The author concludes this chapter by emphasising the pressing need for organised political action in defense of bilingual education, and he appeals to the readership to mobilise itself.

    Critical Evaluation This publication makes a valuable contribution to the public discussion on language policy and plurality in the United States. Readable, up-to-date, and factual, it does an excellent job of placing policy within a historical and political context. The book would interest the specialist and the non-specialist, alike.

    The author is full of insightful, intelligent discussion on how seemingly distant political forces can have a profound effect upon community language choices. He correctly observes that, for better or for worse, bilingual education is a political issue that needs to be defended if it is to survive. But how should this be done? Perhaps this requires another whole book. However, a final chapter to 'At War with Diversity', advising on what type of action(s) would effectively defend linguistic diversity in a hostile political climate, would have been a satisfying way to wrap up this interesting collection of essays.

    About the reviewer Cindy Schneider earned her MA in Linguistics in 1998, and has taught English as a Second Language in the United States, Mexico, and Australia. Her research interests include language description, vernacular literacy, and language policy. She is currently employed as an Associate Lecturer in Linguistics at the University of New England in Armidale, New South Wales, Australia.